YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 5, 2015

What is “context” and how is it relevant to the Pamela Geller flap?

Context-is-king-1024x7681Lots of pundits, bloggers, and non-writers have been talking about free speech and the affronts to it. The occasion for all this jabber is the event managed by activist Pamela Geller and her event at Garland, Texas, that resulted in the death of two would-be invading Islamist gunmen.

Some commentators have complained that the drawing of a cartoon of Mohammed was provocative and incendiary, while others have vigorously defended untrammeled free speech, let the chips fall.

I am most concerned with the widespread notion that we actually have free speech and exercise it at will. That is one subject on this blog. (https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.)

But I am also amazed by William J. Donahue’s statement on Fox News Channel, referring to the larger “context” of Geller’s alleged provocation.  (He had already written about angry Muslims earlier this year with respect to the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris: http://www.catholicleague.org/muslims-right-angry/.)

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

As I have described here before, the once fact-based profession of history has been taken over by postmodernists, who, following Hayden White, view all published history as “literature.” I myself have advanced the observation that we are “prisoners of our contexts,” (https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/), though I would never go so far as the postmodernists by throwing out all science as a swindle insofar as it affects “objectivity.”

As I discovered when first conducting my Melville research, finding the relevant context for artists and their critics (or for our own cherished beliefs) is a challenge. For instance, Freudians will focus on Melville’s family situation; Marxists will scrutinize him for class, racial, and gender prejudices; “progressives” attempting to co-opt both Freud and Marx will, and have, looked at his family very selectively, and then will praise him to the extent that they believe that he generally reflects their own “moderation.” If they have to suppress documents that contradict progressive notions, they will do that too. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.) And the preferred “moderate” position is “multiculturalism” for it keeps us divided and racism and collective categories are  intact,. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)

The relevant context for the Pamela Geller/free speech flap is “multiculturalism”. No one sees this, for the assumption is either that Geller is a “hater” who “incites” Muslims, or, conversely, that we have untrammeled free speech and we must go to the wall on its behalf, lest we betray the First Amendment.

This latter position ignores case law, and worse, often reads back into English history the precedents for free speech, ignoring that the common law originated in medieval times when perfect obedience to orders and personages above oneself in the Great Chain of Being was taken for granted. Kings, Popes, and the nobility were at constant war with one another over conflicting rights, but the notion that peasants and townspeople should enjoy the same privileges was unheard of.

Get used to it, readers. The progressive bourgeoisie and growing mass literacy brought us such free speech as we currently enjoy, and “free speech” has always been contested by special interests that want freedom of expression for their own causes, but would deny it to their adversaries.

Do academics enjoy free speech and academic freedom, as they proudly proclaim? It depends on their superiors. As sociologist Stephen Turner has observed over and over, all scholarship is subsidized. But even if academics could get jobs based on pure merit and objective criteria, we would still be faced with our own limitations. As the lady said, we are to some unknowable extent, all prisoners of our contexts (personal and institutional).

Herman Melville would agree with me.



February 3, 2015

Jews not killed for “just being Jews”?

SammyrunThis blog continues https://clarespark.com/2015/01/18/is-antisemitism-rational-or-irrational/. I add to the prior blog that such historians as Deborah Lipstadt (in Beyond Belief) have alleged that Jews were killed for “just being Jews.” This is true insofar as all Jews, including the most assimilated or atheistic, are viewed by their enemies as a illegitimately powerful “race” inexplicably surviving and thriving for thousands of years. But as a statement directed at a broad audience, it requires a more complex and contextualized elaboration. (This blog will be different from my previous discussions of antisemitism thanks to my son-in-law Maimon Chocron, whose emphasis on Jewish survival and astonishingly rapid upward mobility, seen as “unnatural” by antagonists, sent me off in unanticipated new directions.)

Briefly, “the Jews” (preferring “individual rights” over “stability”) always represented a threat as declared by rulers/demagogues: intellectual combativeness, revolutionary socialism, finance capitalism/the power of money (for Hitler, the real force behind the Soviet Union), modernity, Woman, globalism, the madness induced by urban life, the “anti-race” (Hitler) which means they were internationally cohesive and allegedly not loyal to their “nations” of temporary residence, or worse, “unnatural” and hostile to Nature itself, and to the natural order of things.

And the natural order of things is “The Great Chain of Being,” in which each of us knows her or his place. “It ain’t natural” to defy, let alone “dominate” the Great Mother Nature (see https://clarespark.com/2015/03/21/great-goddess-feminism-the-phyllis-chesler-model/). “Natural harmony,” like “the [tightly woven] social fabric,” must be preserved, at all costs. No wonder Jack the Ripper was surmised to have been a “low class Polish Jew” Aaron Kosminski (as reported in The Independent).

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

In other words, whereas peasants from Southeastern and Central Europe could immigrate to America and gradually climb up the class ladder, Jews seemed to their envious fellow-immigrants to be uncanny; how was it possible to go from poverty to great riches and cultural power in one generation? This is memorialized in Budd Schulberg’s popular novel What Makes Sammy Run. They must be greedy crooks, right? as shown in Once Upon a Time in America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_Upon_a_Time_in_America). After all, Budd’s father, B. P. Schulberg was not an immigrant. Wikipedia doesn’t even see him as Jewish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._P._Schulberg. For a very recent review of Schulberg’s novel (understandably condemned by the CP for anti-Semitism), see http://inverarity.livejournal.com/265552.html.

Moreover, Herman Melville invited eternal damnation in Moby-Dick when he referred to the pure and placid face of Nature that only masked “the charnel house within.” For this blasphemy (and others) he was furtively read as a Jew or “Hebraic” by leading critics, such as Henry A. Murray and Charles Olson, while one more daring Princeton professor titled his book Melville’s Quarrel With God. To argue with God is tantamount to deicide.

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

For these reasons, I rank “intellectual combativeness” (a.k.a. the close reading of texts and political moods) to be the key to Jewish success in America. Returning to “Hollywood,” first generation immigrants read the populist/progressive mood that prevailed in their adopted country, saw that upper-class Protestants were busily uplifting the masses to stave off socialism in America, and such as Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer made movies that catered to popular taste—a backwoods, country taste that Budd Schulberg would hold up to ridicule in A Face in the Crowd, or that Ben Urwand would mock in Sergeant York. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffiths-greatest-performance/.

Jon Lomberg's harmonious Great Chain of Being

Jon Lomberg’s harmonious Great Chain of Being

For such reasons, I view antisemitism as both rational and irrational. Jews, as either capitalists or communists, are seen as strange and unfair competitors (the pseudo-“rational” component of antisemitism), while the feelings of Jew haters (the irrational part), contain the residues of ancient, medieval, and modern hostilities.

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